Paul Salveson discusses the earliest railway trade unions

Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 22nd July 2011 by Liam Physick

Paul Salveson talks of the first two successful railway trade unions: the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (the name, he notes, is highly significant) and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF, which specifically represented drivers and firemen). However, he also notes that the employers dismissed the whole idea of a railway union as ridiculous, because of their militaristic ethos: indeed, one director made that very comparison

Interviewee: Paul Salveson

Interviewee Gender: Male

Interview Transcript

The first successful attempt to form a union came in 1871, and the name of the union is quite significant, it was Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, not Railway Workers, not even Railwaymen, it was the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, and this reflected self, the fairly low self-esteem that railway workers had, they did see themselves as being, working in the railway service, they had this military discipline imposed on them and of course the union was formed in 1871 and interestingly it was the, sort of, paternalist Liberal MP, Michael Bass, the brewer, who played a key role in actually getting the union going and helping finance it but the, the railway company weren’t the slightest bit interested in recognising the unions or talking to union representatives, and George Findlay, who was the general manager of London and North Western, is on record as saying, “You might as well have a trade union in the army, the whole thing is completely ridiculous. Forget it, go away”, and so the unions struggled to build up the support. In 1880, ASLEF, as we still know it today, was formed, and, specifically for local drivers and firemen. They were dissatisfied with the cautious approach being taken by the ASRS, which had been going for eight or nine years by then, they felt they needed a stronger, more fighting union, but also one that could represent the particular craft interests of local drivers and firemen and obviously it, it’s continued through to this day.

Tagged under: firemen, drivers, 1911 strike, london and north western railway, aslef, trade unions, amalgamated society of railway servants, michael bass, military discipline

Categorised under: Work & Industry

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